If the challenges we have faced over the past year have taught us anything, it is that we, as educators, should be very aware of our students’ social and emotional health. The isolation that we have endured has made us keenly aware that social-emotional learning is as important as any other subject we teach.
What is Social-Emotional Learning?
Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a way of helping students learn to recognize and manage their emotions as well as how they interact with others. SEL helps students develop learned behaviors that can encourage empathy toward others, as well as nurturing their own emotional health.
Why is Social-Emotional Learning Important for Kids?
SEL is critically important for children because it enables them to develop the five core competencies associated with SEL. The five competencies are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and making responsible decisions.
SEL is also important for kids because it helps increase their academic achievement and positive behaviors. In fact, in a recent study, students who participated in SEL programs showed an 11% increase in grades and attendance. Also, students who participate in SEL are better equipped to handle the pressure and responsibilities that come with adulthood.
So, when we ask ourselves if we can really afford to take time away from our academics for social-emotional learning, the question should be: can we afford not to?
Social-Emotional Learning Activities to Try this Summer
SEL doesn’t have to take time away from your academics. It can and should be woven into the fabric of your classroom culture. Here are some ideas for continuing SEL in the summer.
Anytime I think about journaling, I am reminded of the movie “Freedom Writers”. It is a phenomenal movie that I believe every educator should watch. It is a true story that demonstrates the profoundly positive effect that journaling can have for kids.
While the students in the movie are in extreme situations in south-central Los Angeles, all students, regardless of age, socio-economics, location, or background, experience their own trials and challenges that they need to express in some way.
This movie also demonstrates how critically important it is for teachers to develop meaningful relationships with their students. This helps students feel safe and secure. When students feel safe, they are more likely to open up about troubling issues they are dealing with.
Through journaling, students can express emotions, write down things they are worried about, make lists of things they are thankful for, or even write stories or poems. Journaling lets kids express themselves in a way that can be kept private if they choose to do so. They are able to talk about how they feel. In doing this, they are increasing their self-awareness and learning to manage their emotions.
Sometimes, one of the most beneficial things I can do for my own sanity is to find a good book that can take me away from my problems for a bit and to another place. Children can experience the same feeling. Students should be exposed to literature with positive messages or self-help books that will encourage them to make better choices and understand themselves and their emotions to a greater extent.
Of course, some of our younger students may not be to the point of reading independently yet. For those students, they can benefit just as much by being read to. This can be done with longer “chapter books”, reading a few chapters a day or with picture books. Students can relate to the characters and their problems which can help to develop their self-awareness and self-management skills. Discussing the characters, their problems, and their emotions can help students learn to deal with their own issues.
There is nothing quite like contributing to the needs of others or the local community to give a boost to a child’s self-worth. Getting children involved with community projects at an early age can help them develop empathy that will stay with them for years to come. Kids can do things like visit nursing homes (when it is safe to do so), cleaning up community parks, or working at a local soup kitchen or food bank. This is a great way to help kids develop social awareness and relationship skills as they will be working with others.
Children can learn, at any age, how good it feels to be engaged with their local community and to give to others. Focusing on helping others that are not as fortunate can always give needed perspective for kids as well as adults.
Far too often these days, children are accustomed to being inside most of the time. Many of their activities involve electronics or screens, which can help contribute to many problems that children experience. For example, being inside for long periods of time can cause one to feel more anxiety and restlessness. This can make a child or adult more irritable and upset about minor things. Also, research shows that long segments of screen time can worsen a person’s mood and can even cause depression.
So children of all ages need to be spending more time outside. There are so many outdoor activities that can help improve one’s social and emotional health. Taking a walk in nature can help us appreciate the outdoors as well as give us some always-needed exercise. Practicing yoga outside can help improve one’s outlook. Something as simple as planting and tending to flowers, plants, or vegetables can do the mind a body a lot of good. And there is nothing quite like that feeling of accomplishment when you can literally see the fruits of your labor.
For some, there is no better medium for self-expression than art. For those that are artistically inclined, drawing and painting can be a great source of catharsis. For others, making a scrapbook or collage of emotions by drawing or finding pictures can be another great source of expression. Art can make us feel more engaged and more self-aware. Involvement in art can also decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, or stress. These types of expressive art activities can be incorporated into journaling as well.
Are there Negative Effects of Suspending SEL for Summer?
It is so important that children continue SEL activities throughout the summer. Otherwise, students can withdraw from the mode of self-expression, self-awareness, and self-management to an unhealthy place for them emotionally and socially.
If we as educators seek to make SEL a part of our classrooms every day and work to develop the relationships with students that let them know they have a safe space to express themselves, then these kinds of activities will become second nature to our students and enable them to learn self-management skills that will keep them socially and emotionally healthy.